Category Archives: Sub-Saharan Africa

Is Poverty the Root Cause of Boko Haram Violence?

Here’s a must-read post by coauthor Martin Lewis from his GeoCurrents blog on the topic of violence in northern Nigeria by Boko Harem. The complete post is here. And here’s the first two paragraphs of Martin’s post:

The notion that poverty is the main cause of terrorism and insurgency is one of the most contentious ideas in global security studies. Those on the left tend to emphasize the connection between violence and the lack of development, while those on the right tend to deny or at least minimize it.

In recent weeks, this debate has turned to the brutal extremist group known as Boko Haram, based in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno. In early May, 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry explained the growth of Boko Haram by observing that, “much of this challenge comes out of this poverty where young people are grabbed at an early stage, proffered a little bit of money…” Other sources describe the relationship in more straightforward terms. An article in the Huffington Post, following a report from the International Crisis Group, claims that, “simply put, the militants have been doing so well because some parts of Nigeria have been doing so poorly.” A recent New York Times editorial echoed this idea, although it emphasized corruption as much as poverty.  Spiegel International similarly stressed the “struggle over scarce resources [that] only exacerbates existing ethnic and religious conflicts between Christians and Muslims.”



Illegal Migration Through Spain’s Enclaves in Africa

Hardly a day passes without a news article about illegal migration into Europe, often about either the tragic loss of life when migrants drown attempting to enter Spain or Italy by sea or the hardships migrants suffer trying to enter an European Union (EU) country overland from Turkey. Here, as an illustration, is a CNN infographic showing pathways of illegal migration into Europe.

In the last month, however, a flurry of news article have called attention to Spain’s two territorial enclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla, where illegal migrants from Africa and refugees from war-torn Syria are using as a backdoor into Europe. Even though both cities are located in Morocco, they are legally Spanish territory, thus if illegal migrants are arrested in either of the two cities the hope is that they will be jailed—and eventually released—-on the Spanish mainland. The dream is that even if they’re still illegal they could construct a new and more comfortable life either in Spain or elsewhere in a European country like France or Germany since there are no longer any formal border controls between Spain and France. And once into France an illegal migrant can pass freely into Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, or Italy. Consequently Spain that the problems in Melilla and Ceuta are not simply Spanish problems but EU problems…..which is probably true.

The border fence between Melilla and Morocco, over which illegal migrants will climb in order to be arrested on Spanish territory. (Wikipedia photo)

The border fence between Melilla and Morocco, over which illegal migrants will climb in order to be arrested on Spanish territory.
(Wikipedia photo)

African migrants camped outside of Melilla. NY Times photo by Samel Aranda

African migrants camped outside of Melilla.
NY Times photo by Samel Aranda

Here are some extracts from a recent NY Times article “As Africans Surge to Europe’s Door, Spain Locks Down”:

“Ten years ago Spain spent more than 30 million euros building up the barriers around Melilla and Ceuta, its two enclaves surrounded by Morocco on the northern coast of Africa, which offer the only land borders between the promise of Europe and the despair of Africa. And for a while the investment seemed to work.

“But in the past year, large groups of sub-Saharan immigrants have been charging the rows of seven-yard-high chain-link fences here with increasing frequency, or trying to swim around them, believing with good reason that if they can just get past they will ultimately end up in Europe. They often end up injured, not just from falls and the newly laid concertina wire, but at the hands of the Moroccan and Spanish authorities trying to stop them.

“It is a question that has hounded Europe for years, as immigrants fleeing wars or simply wanting a better future have tried to break through its borders, sometimes dying in tiny boats headed for the Canary Islands, part of Spain, or the Italian island of Lampedusa, sometimes trying to walk from Turkey to Greece or Bulgaria. Or, as they are doing now, charging the fences of these enclaves, seeking out even the smallest doorways to Europe

“Even so, their excitement is hard to miss because they are well on their way to getting what they hoped for. Most have had brutal journeys and now will probably spend a year or more in the immigration center as their applications for asylum are processed. Few will get such status. But most will end up transferred to the mainland before being handed an order to leave Spain.

“Most cannot be deported because Spain does not have treaties with many of the countries they come from. So in the twist that has confounded Europe’s efforts to secure its borders for decades now, many of those who make it to Melilla and Ceuta will be largely free to remain in Spain or other European nations that offer them the prospect of better lives.

“Getting over the fences is not the only route into the enclaves. Experts say sub-Saharan women tend to come by boat. More recently, the enclaves have also attracted growing numbers of Syrians, who, because they look more like local Moroccans and often have some money, are able to buy or rent Moroccan passports and simply walk quietly across the border with other day workers.”

UPDATE: Here is the latest NY Times article on the topic, “Spain Struggles to Halt Migrants at Two Enclaves


How Big is Africa?

Most maps distort the true size of the world’s countries because of the inherent geometric problems of transcribing curved areas from a globe (Earth) to a flat piece of paper (a map). Most notorious, of course, is the Mercator projection, which exaggerates the size of high latitude northern hemisphere countries like Russia, Greenland, and Canada while fairly accurately depicting the middle latitudes. Although the Mercator projection served well its historical purposes of guiding sailing ships across the world’s oceans, unfortunately Mercator maps still appears in public places (like school textbooks and the evening TV news), thus misleading people with an errant sense of our world’s continents and countries. But those projection distortions are covered elsewhere and are not really the topic of this post.

Instead, the focus is on a recent blogosphere conversation comparing the size of Africa to other large countries by using a jigsaw puzzle approach that fits the shape and size of numerous countries into an outline of Africa. Kai Krause, a computer graphics guy started it with his map where you see, first,  Africa’s size compared to other large countries like China, India, Europe, and the United States, then, second, all of these countries (plus a few more) stuffed inside of Africa. The point, I assume, is that Africa’s size is so big that it could devour a handful of other countries. Ok, that’s cool.

map of Africa

Africa’s area compared to other countries (taken from a Mercator projection, unfortunately)

Other countries compared to Afria

The Economist version of the How Big is Africa map using an equal area projection. As you can see the differences are notable.

The only trouble is that an unknown cartographer for the The Economist called Krause on the carpet for using the shapes and sizes of various countries as depicted on a Mercator projection map. Oh dear. So the Economist cartographer redrew the map using more accurate county size and shapes from a Gall’s Stereographic Cylindrical Projection. Details on how that was done are found here. So that’s also cool, right?

Except, frankly,  I’m not sure how to process this information except to agree that Africa’s indeed a big, big continent. But after driving across the United States innumerable times, I KNOW the US is also a very big country; much bigger, in fact, when I have to drive it alone without company. And after flying from San Francisco to Europe hundreds of times, I also know that the distance between the West Coast and Frankfurt or Paris is also HUGE. Furthermore, having frequently driven all over Europe I know Europe was much, much larger back in 1962 when I drove my $200 1951 VW bug on the backroads of the Balkans than it was last year when I screamed down the autobahn from Berlin to Munich in a Hertz rental Land Rover at an outrageous rate of speed.

As for Africa, I’ve only been there once, up in the north where Morocco seemed rather large at the time because I was constantly dodging donkeys that wandered on to  the highway. Later in the week, though, Morocco got even larger one afternoon while exploring the Sahara’s northern fringe when the Hertz rental car developed a terrible cough and threatened to expire 100 kilometers from the nearest settlement or human being. Talk about HUGE countries.

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Posted by on April 18, 2013 in Sub-Saharan Africa